Saturday, 30 March 2019

RITA CHAO (凌雲) "RITA CHAO WITH THE QUESTS" (1967)



Rita Chao, best known to her Mandarin-speaking fans as 凌雲 (…Ling Yun, Ling Ying or Seow Mei-Mei, depending on your preferred source of information…), was born in Singapore, probably sometimes in 1949 or early 1950; she grew up there, where she received her education.

Anyway, according to some reports, her family originated from the city of Hangzhou (杭州), which is located in the Zhejiang Province (浙江省) in Eastern China, not so far from Shanghai (上海).

Rita, the youngest of six children with three brothers and two sisters, started singing at the tender age of 8 and was already working as a singer and actress at 14. At school she was not very interested in her academic studies, instead she excelled with performance arts: singing and acting.

Luckily enough, she was born in a family of artists: her grandmother, Zhao Yongchun (趙永春), was a known Chinese Opera singer, and her mother Jing Yu Xian (荊玉仙) was a Chinese Opera singer too. Growing up in this environment allowed her to be familiar with life in the entertainment business, and helped to mentor her future career.

Her parents and relatives saw her potential as an artist quite soon, and decided to pull Rita out of school to follow the Opera troupe on their performances. Rita was given chances to perform Chinese Opera on stage and her performances were very good.

It is unclear when and where Rita embraced Pop music... However, at the end of 1965 - when she was just 15 - while touring Malaysia with her former group, she joined a band called Super XX.

In the meantime Zhao Yongchun, determined to turn her beloved granddaughter into a star, increased her vocal training, became her manager and successfully arranged for her to perform in various nightclubs in Singapore.

Rita was discovered on the local entertainment scene by Su Yin (舒雲), a.k.a. Henry Foo, a Singaporean singer, songwriter and lyricist, who at the time was also the A&R manager for the Chinese section at Columbia / EMI.

In 1966 she was signed by the label and released her very first 7" EP. On this record, she was paired with the top guitar band from Singapore, The Quests. The EP sold over 50.000 copies, and for Rita it was instant stardom.

During those days Rita met Sakura Teng (櫻花). As the story goes, Sakura was already a star singing at various Cabarets throughout South East Asia. On one occasion before going on stage, Sakura and Rita were backstage talking; they instantly clicked and started singing together. Sakura thought they had a very distinctive sound and that night she decided to add a segment to the show in which they would sing a duet. Obviously, they received a stunning reaction from the public and decided to join forces...

Well, probably that is just the romantic version of the story...: since both singers were doing quite well, it is an easy guess that EMI felt that pairing them would give both their careers a boost. In 1967 Rita and Sakura began performing as a double act and constantly toured Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan, building a fan base at each port of call.



During her heyday Rita Chao recorded many great Mandarin covers of popular English songs and she was part of the pioneers who launched the Rock Movement in Singapore. Along with Sakura, they were both known as 'A Go-Go Queens of the Sixties"; in those days, they used to perform at the now defunct New World Amusement Park and they both lived in Jalan Besar.

Rita's career lasted about ten years. In 1975, when her last solo album was released, she declared in an interview that she was about to make a movie in Hong Kong and that she was tired of singing all the time... In 1980-81 she briefly returned on the scene releasing two albums with Sakura, just before disappearing completely.

For more than three decades there has been no news about her in the media, only during recent years unconfirmed information appeared on the Internet that she may have been suffering from a psychiatric illness that required long-term treatment.

In early February 2015 the news about her death spreaded: Rita's 90-years-old mother confirmed that the former singer passed away in July 2014; she has been suffering from colon cancer for about three years when she died at the Singapore General Hospital surrounded by her mother, brothers and sisters. Her ashes were scattered at sea after a short wake and funeral attended by family and friends. The family did not inform show business friends as they wanted the past to be forgotten...

Most of the information included in this post was translated by our best friend Brian (...thank you!!!) from a rare article found in the May 19, 1970 edition of "Hong Kong TV Magazine" available in this post on the great macaenese5354 blog.

I am also in debt with Joseph C. Pereira, whose books "Apache Over Singapore" and "Beyond the Tea Dance" are a constant and invaluable source of information and inspiration, thanks!!!


"Rita Chao With The Quests" includes the following tracks:

01. 隔壁的冤家 (The Boy Next Door) (2:01)
02. 薄情郎 (He's Untrue) (3:23)
03. 別纏住我 (Only Friends) (3:35)
04. 搖搖搖 (Shake Shake Shake) (1:49)
05. Hanky Panky (3:11)
06. 愛人你變了 (I Know) (3:17)
07. 去年今天 (Lonely Heart) (3:36)
08. 媽媽的勸告 (Bachelor Boy) (2:07)
09. Sixteen Candles (3:16)
10. 小姑娘 (Let True Love Begin) (3:05)
11. 往日的舊夢 (Gonna Be Alright) (2:23)
12. 我不能沒有你 (Wooly Bully) (2:07)

All tracks were remastered in March 2019 and are available in FLAC lossless format, along with complete artwork reconstruction and printable PDF files.

Please have a look at the comments section for the download link.


Rita Chao as she appears on the front cover of the album

Preceded by four stunning 7" EPs - all available here on Stereo Candies - Rita Chao's debut album was released sometime in early/mid 1967 by Columbia / EMI in Singapore with catalogue number 33 ESX 603.

The album comes in a lovely flipback laminated sleeve with a two-colour printed matte back. The front cover uses a flipped picture of Rita Chao that earlier graced her 我不能沒有你 (The Boy Next Door) EP, while the back offers a slightly psychedelic collage of four different pictures that portrait her in three different outfits, including the one she is wearing on the front cover.

The vinyl copy in my possession is a first pressing with green labels that was manufactured in Australia, probably just weeks before EMI's Singapore pressing plant came on-line in June 1967. The second pressing has black labels similar to those that you can see in the post I dedicated to Sakura's debut album.

The colours on the front cover of my original copy are quite pale in comparison to the reconstruction that I'm offering in this post. You can catch a glimpse of the original cover in this picture available on the Stereo Candies Instagram account. I thought that somehow my copy was defective, or that maybe it had been exposed to direct sunlight for a long time but, as I was searching the Internet prior to compile this post, I discovered that other copies bear the same defect... The other record that appears in such picture is an infamous sounding bootleg that exploits this same cover, but features a different tracklisting that also includes tracks released a few years later.

As the title clearly implies, on this album Rita Chao is accompanied by The Quests, the legendary Singaporean group which was very active during the mid-late '60s, both as a backing unit - most notably for Rita herself and Sakura - and as performers in their own right with a very long series of singles and four full-lenght albums. It's about time that I also start taking care of their recordings, but that's another story, so let's move on to the usual track-by-track commentary...



Side 1 opens with "隔壁的冤家 (The Boy Next Door)", a song written by Johnny Madara and David White that was originally performed by American girl group The Secrets in 1963. The same year the song was turned into a huge hit in Singapore by The Crescendos, you can listen to their version own by clicking here.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to find any information about "薄情郎 (He's Untrue)", I would believe that it is an original composition, but the presence of a Mandarin + English title seems to prove the contrary... Maybe some reader of this blog can shed some light on the subject? Anyway, this track features Reggie Vergese in top form offering a great performance on acoustic guitar, including a mandolin-style solo.

"別纏住我 (Only Friends)" is a Mandarin cover of "Ton meilleur ami", a song originally performed by French singer and actress Françoise Hardy in 1962. An English version of this song was popularized in Singapore by Heather and The Diamond Four.

The very short and lively "搖搖搖" (Shake, Shake, Shake) was originally included in the 1966 movie "何日君再来" (Till the End of Time), which was a huge success in Singapore and launched the acting career of the young 胡燕妮 (Jenny Hu). The voice singing the original tune belongs to Chinese singer and dubbing artist 静婷 (Tsin Ting); you can watch the original music number here.

"Hanky Panky" is a song written in 1963 by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich for their group, The Raindrops. It was famously remade by rock group Tommy James and the Shondells, who took it to No. 1 in the United States in 1966. On this version, The Quests add their trademark guitar sound and wild drumming, turning Rita's performance in a Garage classic. Here's a link to The Raindrops' original version.

The original version of "愛人你變了" (I Know) was written by Robert Suriya of Naomi & The Boys and was included on the band's second EP released in 1965 by Philips. "快樂誕辰" (Happy Happy Birthday) was also included in the same EP, and is a cover of a 1957 Doo Wop number by The Tune Weavers (...original version is here).



Side 2 starts with "去年今天 (Lonely Heart)", a Mandarin cover of The Thunderbirds' "My Lonely Heart", one of the most popular original compositions in the history of Singapore Pop Music, which was written in 1966 by Harvey Fitzgerald - the band's lead singer - and Gerry Pasqual, their manager. The magic of the original version is reinforced by Rita's memorable performance and the evocative Mandarin lyrics would send shivers down the spine of the coldest human on Earth. This is a M-A-S-T-E-R-P-I-E-C-E!!!

"媽媽的勸告 (Bachelor Boy)" is a cover of a song written by Cliff Richard and Bruce Welch. Originally performed by Cliff Richard with musical accompaniment by The Shadows in 1963, it was also included on the successful movie "Summer Holiday".

"Sixteen Candles", the immortal youth anthem written by Luther Dixon and Allyson R. Khent, was originally performed by American Doo-wop group The Crests in 1958. On this release Rita sings a slightly adapted version of the original English lyrics; a version with Mandarin lyrics was also recorded and released during the same year.

While the "atmosphere" of all the other covers on the album is rather faithful to the original, this rendition "小姑娘 (Let True Love Begin)" - a 1961 number by legendary pianist and singer Nat King Cole - is clearly marked with Rock'n'Roll elements which are not present in the original. This song was written by Mark Barkan along with Sandy Baron and George Eddy. Another interesting version recorded by The Crests in the early '60s is linked here for comparison.

"往日的舊夢 (Gonna Be Alright)" is a Mandarin cover version of Gerry and The Pacemakers' hit. The song was written by Gerry Mardsen and originally performed by the group in 1964.

The album ends with "我不能沒有你 (Wooly Bully)", a cover of a popular song originally recorded by novelty Rock'n'Roll band Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs in 1965. Wikipedia offers much more information about the song here, and you can listen to the original version courtesy of YouTube. Another clip that shows the band performing a playback on TV is also available here.


The following clips offer a complete preview of the remastered album, enjoy!


























More information about Rita Chao is available here:

http://www.discogs.com/artist/385494-Rita-Chao

https://rateyourmusic.com/artist/%E5%87%8C%E9%9B%B2

https://rateyourmusic.com/artist/rita_chao_and_sakura

http://madrotter-treasure-hunt.blogspot.com/search/label/rita%20chao

http://blog.roodo.com/macaenese5354/archives/25610568.html

http://blog.roodo.com/macaenese5354/archives/25707290.html

https://questing.wordpress.com/category/rita-chao-%E5%87%8C%E9%9B%B2/

https://questing.wordpress.com/category/sakura-rita-duet-%E6%AB%BB%E8%8A%B1-%E6%B7%A9%E9%9B%B2/

http://mocamborainbow.blogspot.com/2008/07/rita-chao.html

http://www.smartshanghai.com/articles/nightlife/music-tuesday-far-out-east-2

http://singapore60smusic.blogspot.com/2009/01/rita-chao-pop-go-go-for-william-dad.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_of_Singapore

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dk_gilbert/sets/72157625310673913

http://www.geocities.jp/a104gs/rita.chao.html

http://www.geocities.jp/a104gs/rita.lp.html

http://www.geocities.jp/a104gs/sakura.rita.chao.html

http://women.asiaone.com/women/people/agogo-princess-rita-chao-died-6-months-ago

http://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/entertainment/a-go-go-queen-rita-chao-dies-of-colon-cancer


If you have any other useful information about Rita Chao and "Rita Chao With The Quests", or if you spot any dead links, please get in touch with me at stereocandies [at] hotmail [dot] com or leave a comment in the box below, thank you!

Monday, 25 March 2019

SCOTT WALKER, 9 January 1943 - 22 March 2019



Scott Walker has recently joined the great majority. I truly regret that the final chapter in the trilogy of posts dedicated to his lost albums could not be posted here on Stereo Candies before this mournful event... Anyway, I promise that it will happen soon.



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